Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lost in translation

The Supreme Court sat last week to hear a case in Irish. While the state has battled for the Irish language in Europe it's not as keen to give it equality when it comes to the hundreds of statutory instruments that are published each year in English only.

Article eight of the constitution clearly says that Irish is the first language of the state. The government doesn't believe this means the courts can tell them when and how to translate laws though. The judgement on this case will take a few months.

Monday, February 16, 2009


A lot of papers use "EXCLUSIVE" tags on stories to highlight a yarn they believe no one else has. My paper doesn't. I think most broadsheets in Ireland don't. I think the reasoning against using the tag is that every story, in theory, should be somewhat exclusive and there should be no need to shout about it.

It can also look daft putting an exclusive tag on a story if five other papers published on the same day have the same story. One of the most bizarre uses of "EXCLUSIVE" was the splash of this weekend's Sunday Independent. The paper "revealed" that Anglo Irish Bank loaned 300m euro to 10 individuals to buy its own shares. Some scoop eh?

Except the story looks remarkably similar to Tom Lyons' story published four weeks previously on the front page of the Sunday Times. It's also been reported in the Sunday Business Post and others like the Indo has also followed up and reported that it had been raised in an Oireachtas committee.

So the Sunday Independent report a four week old story like it's new. I don't get it.

Meanwhile we followed up on Tom's original story this weekend with a story revealing the regulator and other state bodies knew about the deal and gave it the OK.

The Regulator's response to the Sunday Times story can be seen here. This statement, issued on Sunday, is a classic case of what is known as a non-denial denial. The Regulator says it rejects the story but then in the second line of its own statement it contradicts itself and admits "the Financial Regulator and other authorities were aware of a large CFD position held in Anglo Irish Bank shares in 2008 and steps being taken to have it unwound".

Brian Cowen confirmed today in the Dail that the Reglator knew about the deal and approved it based on legal advice from, guess who, Anglo's solicitors.

"Mr Cowen said the Financial Regulator got legal advice from Anglo's advisors that this was a legal transaction and that was accepted at the time. "

This story will run and run. Click here for a full overview of the state's involvement in this mess from the Sunday Times last week.

Meanwhile, my favourite story from last week came via the Comptroller & Auditor General Report on the cost of the tribunals which is essential reading for us tribunal nerds. The report was published on Thursday and got extensive coverage in Friday's newspapers mainly due to the overall cost estimated to top 430m euro.

Thankfully there was some detail left over for the Sunday papers including the fact that Jerry Healy and John Coughlan have earned 1 million euro more than they should have in the last six years due to a typo. The Moriarty Tribunal has at least six months left in it so it really is the typo that keeps on giving. By the way this wasn't an exclusive. John Burke in the Business Post also spotted this detail buried in the report.

Finally, I wrote about a wave of Pyrite cases that are coming down the line for developers who used infill which contains this material which allegedly causes cracking in the walls and floors of homes. You can tell from the solicitor's letter we received from Logancourt that developers are not keen to be publicly associated with pyrite.

If your house is affected by pyrite though and you're not involved in the Menolly cases that have been rolling on for some time then I'd be very interested in talking to you. So by all means email me.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The return of Gama and other yarns that made the website

There is no doubt that finding the Irish edition of the Sunday Times online is a bit of a struggle. It's by the way. It doesn't really roll off the tongue. We are looking to get a simple address but I don't know if that will happen any time soon.

One yarn from last week that didn't go up on the site was about Gama. Remember them? Well hundreds of Turkish workers haven't forgotten their time in Ireland and are suing for unpaid wages amounting to over 40m euro. Click above if you want to see the story about the case which will be in court in a few weeks.

We are always told that we need to have a mix of "lighter" stories in the paper. It can be more challenging finding a light story that is interesting than a serious one sometimes. So a trip to the cinema last week unearthed one of these less serious stories in Liffey Valley. Vue now have screenings of films for "adults only" despite the film being classified 12A or 15A. Personally I've never had a problem with kids in cinemas. I've seen a lot of drunk or rude adults chatting through films though. I don't like the extra 1.5o euro charge either.

Last week's biggest story was the pension levy. In the Sunday Times we've written several stories highlighting how the public sector pay has left the private sector far behind in the last decade. The amount of the state's finances going on public sector pay grew to €18.8 billion for 2008. An ever increasing amount of this was going to pay the "unfunded" public sector pensions so it was inevitable the government would make changes in this area with the economy going down the tubes.

The knock on effect of the pension levy is going to be huge and may involve a lot of industrial action. We wrote that up to a 1,000 gardai may retire this year because, well, it makes sense to a lot of them to get a pension of half their pay and go look for some other work rather than see a huge chunk of their wages disappear from March.

One other garda related story from last week is about a personal injury claim garda Damien Green is taking. That is just one incredibly sad story.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Moriarty and seeking asylum in Ireland

Things are getting very interesting with the Moriarty Tribunal which has spent over a decade investigating the award of the state's second mobile phone license to Denis O'Brien's Esat consortium. It's difficult to get people interested in this but it is going to be a huge story later this year. We've already reported that the provisional findings are critical of the civil servants involved in the award of the license.

John Burns has done a good review of some of the key evidence here. Basically a lot of people's reputations are on the line now.

Legal restrictions prohibit us from going in to the details of the provisional findings although it seems a lot of this will finally be aired later this month as new hearings will be held for new witnesses. Other witnesses will be recalled to clarify evidence already given.

Last Friday the tribunal called journalists and other parties shortly before 10am to say they were having a brief hearing to serve a summons on Christopher Vaughan, an English solicitor. I got the call at 9.55, hopped on my bike and was in the tribunal room by 10.01. Other journalists did make it down as well. See Colm Keena's report in the Irish Times. The net effect of this hearing was that we learned that Mr Vaughan will be one of a number of witnesses who will be appearing down at Dublin Castle in the next few weeks. It seems various parties are scrambling to have new evidence heard which they hope will have an affect on the provisional findings that Justice Moriarty has issued already.

Alan Dukes may be one of these witnesses if some civil servants who want his recall get their way.

On a different subject.... a case that has got a lot of attention as it trundles through the courts system is that of Pamela Izevbekhai from Nigeria . She is is seeking asylum for herself and her two daughters. Asylum law is one area where public and media pressure can have a huge role in influencing the outcome as Justice Ministers have the final say. As Izevbekhai is receiving such positive media coverage in general we tried to look at her case from a different/cynical point of view.

Every couple of years there seems to be high profile deportation case that grabs public attention. Great Agbonlahor, the autistic Nigerian boy, was deported despite legal action and widespread media support. Before that Kunle Elunkanlo was deported but Michael McDowell did a U-turn and he is now back in Ireland and working for SuperValu.

The Nigerian ambassador spoke to me last week about the Izevbekhai case. The Nigerians are obviously enough frustrated at how Nigeria is being portrayed in the Izevbekhai case and the ambassador promised to investigate Izevbekhai's claims that her in-laws want to perform Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on her daughters.

A quote from the ambassador that didn't make it in to print because of space constraints was an assertion that FGM is not a serious issue in Nigeria and is restricted to "primitive" areas. This goes against all the independent evidence as quoted in the larger piece we did that shows that nearly 60% of girls are subjected to this in some parts of Nigeria. Amnesty International, who are supporting Izevbekhai, have told me they want to meet with the ambassador to discuss her views on FGM and Izevbekhai. That should be an interesting meeting if it happens.